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Who's most ready for 5G? China, not the US, leads all

For all the talk from the US carriers, China holds a narrow lead as the country most suited to jump to 5G, according to a new study.

Colorful abstract representation of 5G technology.

Loss of leadership in 5G could affect a nation's economy.

James Martin/CNET

In the race to get to 5G wireless technology in a real way, China is poised to lead the world. 

That's according to a study conducted by Analysys Mason, which found that China had the best combination of wireless carriers committing to the technology, government backing for research, a clear rollout plan by 2020 and government commitment of spectrum, or the radio airwaves critical to deliver wireless service.

After China, South Korea, then the US and Japan make up global leaders in 5G, according to the firm.

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The study marks the latest trickle of hype over 5G -- the next generation of cellular technology, which is supposed to be significantly faster and more responsive and to power other areas of tech like self-driving cars or streaming virtual reality services. At least, when it actually gets here. 

The reality has been lots of promises over the past few years, with various companies and governments quietly trying to put the pieces together to make 5G work.

The study, commissioned by US cellular industry trade group CTIA, likely is meant as a kick in the pants to the US government (the CTIA represents carriers like Verizon and AT&T) to both free up regulations and access to spectrum for 5G deployment. 

It could work, given the White House's views on 5G. After all, this administration reportedly floated the idea of building a nationalized 5G network, and President Donald Trump killed Broadcom's acquisition of Qualcomm because of the threat of losing the US leadership position in 5G.

US carriers are looking to get an early start. Verizon and AT&T hope to launch 5G services this year, and T-Mobile and Sprint are both deploying this year for a broader launch in 2019. But it's unclear how broad those services will be at launch, or if the early experience will meet the hype

While there's jockeying between the four big national carriers, there's also a competition around the world between countries. The loss of leadership in 5G could affect the economy, according to a separate study by Recon Analytics that was also commissioned by the CTIA. 

"When countries lose global leadership in a generation of wireless, jobs are shed and technology innovation gets exported overseas," said Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics. 

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